I have been thinking about pacing lately. Pacing is the rate at which you allow things to happen in your narrative, the speed at which you show things to your reader. The book I'm writing now is much more character-driven than my past books, which have all been heavy on character but also have tight, forward-moving plots to provide the basic structure. The new book? I have no idea what the plot is. I'm making it up as I go along and for the first time since my first (miserable failure) novel, I'm writing without an outline. So all I have is revelation of character, really. I'm learning that pacing is much more important (and harder to do) in a basically character piece than it is in a basically plot piece.
Here's an example of the difference:
In a plot-oriented story, you can open with a guy going to the office and thinking about how today is his 10-year anniversary. He needs to remember to buy a card and flowers for his wife before he meets her for dinner after work. He goes into his office, turns on his computer and suddenly there is a massive explosion down the hall as a bomb in the mail room goes off. No warning has been given at all to the reader that something like this was going to happen. And that's perfectly acceptable and you can do all of this in 500 words of prose (or fewer) and nobody will have any problem with the pacing.
In a character-oriented story, if you open with a guy going to the office and thinking about how today is his 10-year anniversary and how he needs to remember to buy a card and flowers for his wife before he meets her for dinner after work and then he goes into his office, picks up the phone and starts hurling violently angry and obscene abuse at someone, you might have a problem with pacing. Going from an essentially neutral tone to a needle-in-the-red moment like that is probably going to be disorienting and not really the effect you want to have on the reader. What the hell kind of story am I reading? your reader will wonder, and their faith in you as a craftsman and worthy storyteller will be shaken.
I think that big dynamic changes in plot can come with little preparation, but big dynamic changes in character have to be achieved more gradually. In the bomb example above, you don't need to insert into the scene an image of the bomber putting together the explosives and mailing them. But in the phone call example, you need to insert into the scene something to cue the reader that the guy is in a heightened emotional state. Maybe he grumbles about the weather on the way in. Maybe he says something a bit sharp to a coworker he passes in the hall. I don't know. But there should be something. Possibly you skip the bit about the anniversary or move it back to after the violent phone call, but the overall effect will be different then, and if the context of the first chapter is the impending anniversary dinner, you weaken that.
What I'm getting at is the idea that if you come across a passage in your work that seems to come out of nowhere, you probably don't need to rewrite that passage. You probably need to rewrite the passages that lead up to the awkward bit, adding in cues and foreshadowing. Your awkward passage is probably not too much, just too soon. So delay it a bit by preparing for it earlier on.
This is a lousy post because I'm just sort of thinking through some of my current storytelling problems out loud (so to speak, so to speak). I'll do better in the future, I promise.